From: Coastal Point:
The Cottage Café Restaurant & Pub in Bethany Beach has been purchased by SoDel Concepts, representatives from both companies confirmed this week.
The announcement came Tuesday, Oct. 11, after speculation spread recently that the locally owned restaurant group had purchased the popular Coastal Highway eatery.
Cottage Café owners Brent Poffenberger and Tom Neville, college friends who opened the first Cottage Café in Ocean City, Md., in 1993, then opened the Bethany Beach location in 1994.
SoDel President Scott Kammerer said in a statement on Tuesday that the restaurant “has such a sweet spot in the hearts of so many locals and visitors” and “attracts a loyal following and a new fan base” for the company, which now owns 20 eateries in southeastern Delaware.
Back in the early days, Neville recalled, both partners cooked.
“We did everything,” he said in the joint statement. “We worked 80-hour weeks. But the hard work paid off.”
The two later opened the Bethany Boathouse, a seasonal restaurant located across Coastal Highway from the Cottage Café. They will retain ownership of the Boathouse, they said this week.
“Owning two restaurants has been rewarding, but now we want to spend more time with our families,” Poffenberger said. “We feel fortunate that a local family-owned company like SoDel Concepts is interested in the Cottage Café. It’s important that we leave it in good hands. We are confident that SoDel will continue the tradition of great service to our guests, and, maybe most importantly, they will take care of our staff.”
Kammerer said customers and staff should not expect the 240-seat restaurant to change. All the local favorites, including the bestselling pot roast, will remain on the menu, he said.
Poffenberger said SoDel purchased the business, while the Hickman realty group will continue its ownership of the building.
He said settlement on the sale of the business has occurred, but the two are “leasing it back” while liquor license transfers are working their way through the state Alcohol Beverage Control approval process, which he said should be completed in about six weeks.
Neville and Poffenberger met when they were Lambda Chi fraternity brothers at Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) in Shepherdstown, W.Va., Poffenberger said this week. Poffenberger is originally from Montgomery County, Md., while Neville is from Long Island, N.Y.
The two ran both Cottage Café locations from 1994 to 2003, when they closed the Ocean City location when their lease expired there, he said.
The Cottage Café employs about 85 people year-round, and between 120 and 140 during the summer season, according to Kris Medford, SoDel’s director of operations.
Medford said he will be spending time in the Cottage Café in the coming weeks, “mostly trying to get the lay of the land.” He added that SoDel has no plans to make any changes to the restaurant’s menu or décor.
The Bethany Beach Cottage Café location was originally a restaurant called La Crepe, Poffenberger said. After that, it became the Peppermill Restaurant, and for a brief period just before he and Neville took over, it was called Peppercorns, he said.
Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts’ other restaurants include its flagship, Bluecoast Seafood Grill in North Bethany, Fish On in Lewes, Northeast Seafood Kitchen and Ocean View Brewing Company in Ocean View, three locations of Matt’s Fish Camp, which was named after company founder Matt Haley, and Thompson Island Brewing Company in Rehoboth Beach.
The company also acquired Surf Bagel in Lewes in 2021. In addition to the restaurants, SoDel also operates concessions at the Sports at the Beach athletic complex in Georgetown and Delaware Turf in Frederica, Medford said.